Boundaries and Flexibility-How To Strike The Balance With Your Exceptional Child

 

Michael is entering into that tween stage now. It is ackward for him as it is for all kids as he struggles to find where he can be independent and where he needs to learn to ask for help. Combine that with catching up on earlier developmental milestones from toddlerhood and preschool, and as the saying goes in the special needs community, some days you are raising your child at their chronological age, other days it is at a much younger age. And still on other days, they jump between ages. As I’ve said many times in this blog and to friends in person, life is not boring at our house.

Still this tween stage and everything that is accompanying it, has got me thinking about what tools are working for us and Michael now to meet in the middle somewhere, where he feels empowered yet has the necessary boundaries to feel calm, listen and handle anxiety and aggression. Here are some of the basic ones:

  1. Schedules: I both love and dread these, but creating a day and evening schedule for our family where it is written what everyone is doing at certain times, has been a life saver. At first Michael protested thinking it made him a baby, but we (along with other adults around us), showed him how we all need schedules to get organized.
  2. Allow Child Choice in Activities To Put Into The Day: There are no more chances as at this age Michael knows better, but allowing him input into creating schedules and other daily activities has made a difference.
  3. Consistency in how both parents respond: This has been the hardest to do and we have made mistakes, but Dad and I are learning to support one another no matter what and be consistent in how we discipline and approach problems with Michael.
  4. Praise and positive attention: Again, we all point out what our kids are doing wrong, but praising when they do things right is harder for us to remember. We are doing more of this too and catching the good moments.
  5. Asking  child what they need-space or a hug: Sometimes kids may not know, but usually they will give signs if they need Mom or Dad close or Mom or Dad to give them space. Be receptive and flexible. Go with their flow. The professionals you work with that know you and your family will want to work with your family’s flow. Otherwise, keep looking for a better fit for your family.

 

Exceptional Parents, what has worked for you and your child? What is the balance your family has found to have peace in your home? Remember, it’s not one size fits all. Go with a system that is consistent, shows love and respect towards all, and remember, your child loves you even in their most difficult moments as you do them. Until next time.

 

Laughter and Learning To Reassess and Move On For You And Your Child

Navigating our way through Michael’s increasing aggression has not been easy to say the least. We have three or four days of good behavior and feel we have turned a corner as a family, only to have a very bad day that paralyzes us and makes us feel we are back to square A. Of course, the after effects die off and then we start over again fresh the next day. It is not always easy, but I am trying to remember to practice what I preach to Michael- it’s finished, we take a deep breath, and move on. Things will get better if you trust, believe and think positively.

Laughter with work colleagues, my spouse and I hope soon with friends who I am LONG overdue at seeing, will follow. Most nights after coming home from work, handling phone calls and/or registration for Michael’s various activities, handling Michael coming home, the good and the bad, dinner, dishes, bedtime, when the house is quiet if I’m lucky I have a lot of energy left. Like most Moms, I am trying though to remember things I am proud of: Michael’s increasing independence, Michael’s social skills and the way he is now planning play dates, and the way he is understanding about earning money doing chores to buy things. Mostly though, I am learning how important it is to laugh at the funny things he says and does. It helps me remember the special boy that is still there trapped under the behaviors and frustrations and escalating anger. It helps me remember that I love the whole child, and to remember with time he will get better as will we as his parents at handling his escalating moods and helping him regulate them.

Exceptional Parents, what do you laugh about in your parenting journey? Remember, you are not laughing at your child, but laughing at the funny things they do when things are going well. It helps you to remember the rainbow after the storm, that with time and effort things will get better, and that your child, sensing your calm, will gravitate to that calm themselves. Until next time.

How To Handle End of School Year Anxiety- Yours and Your Child’s

Over the years end of school anxiety has gotten better. I am lucky that Michael understands what is happening, what he has control over and what he does not. He will always be a kid who worries about which class he is, which teacher he will get, and yes, he will worry about summer camp, even if he is returning to the same one from the previous year. This is not the case this year, but it is all good. Still though, even with this advantage, it is still difficult. Combine that with hot weather usually, and as a parent you have a child who is wired, stressed and hyper. The only good thing about the cool rainy weather is that Michael and I don’t have to contend with that element this year, but the other ones are in place. So what’s a parent and child to do to handle this time of the year gracefully without too many screaming fests? Here are some tips I have picked up over the years:

  1. Make a schedule of the summer ahead of time: Yep, once again write it all down, print it on computer, put it on a tablet or draw/laminate it. You know what works best for your child. And even if they fight you on it, (been there, done that, am currently renegotiating that) say it is for you as well an do it. This removes A LOT of the stress.
  2. Look at the positives: Help your child see the positives at this time of the year: playing outside when weather is nice, field trips, end of school parties/bbq’s etc.
  3. Have a reward system set up: This is good if there are lots of behaviors. If they have something positive to earn by end of the day, it will change their mindset.
  4. Talk or don’t talk: Some kids feel better talking about their stress. For others, this only feeds it. Find out where your child fits on this continuum and do the one that will put their fears at ease. Set aside a time each day to talk without interruption. For those that get overstimulated and anxious with too much talking, set a time limit and boundaries. We will decide that on this day. I will give you an answer etc.
  5. Lots of physical activity and movement: Have them move around a lot doing sports, going to a park, jumping on a trampoline. This will let them handle a lot of the anxiety that comes with pent up energy.

Exceptional Parents, what are some of your words of wisdom for dealing with your child’s end of year anxiety? Remember, for everyone the techniques may be slightly different and need to be tailored to your unique child. Also, don’t despair if they do not work right away. Any new system (behavior or reward) takes time to take effect and for the house to get used to doing things a certain way. Have patience, take care of you, give your child a chance to adjust and together you can both face the summer with optimism. Until next time.

How To Maintain Your Courage In Times Of Exceptional Family Upheaval

Not again, I thought to myself as Michael lost control and broke yet something else. These were the same words that went through my head over the course of the last few weeks  when I was hit, sweared at, insulted and had to physically hold the door so my child would stay in his “cool down” room in order to teach him there are rules to follow and a safe place to go to calm down. It’s hard. As things have started improving with Michael listening to his Dad and I, he has also been understandably rebelling against the more strict consistent rules we have been putting in. When he has been angry he has repeatedly said, “I want you to go back to being the same Mommy and Daddy as before that gave chances when I didn’t listen.” We have reminded him that he is capable of listening without chances as he is old enough to know right from wrong. This is why we have made these changes, as somewhere along the way Michael has forgotten about our authority as his parents.

I have also learned as hard as it is to get through this latest stage with Michael, that I am strong, capable and that Michael needs me to guide him in making some hard decisions, which means listening even when he does not like what he hears. It also means consistency in how Dad and I handle Michael’s aggression and testing, and our own reactions to it. Considering the stress we have all been under, I think everyone has been doing great. Michael is still excelling at school (thank God), and Dad and I are doing our best to take time for ourselves. How are with doing this, you may ask? We are doing what feels good for us. Sometimes it is personal quiet time. Sometimes it is workout time. Sometimes it is sleeping in a little on the weekends (that one is hard), and sometimes it is by just taking some time ask for space, going out with friends, and curling up with a good book and movie. Whatever Exceptional Parents do, it has to be something that makes them feel calm, collected and balanced. They will need to be strong for what lies ahead to help their Exceptional Child.

Exceptional Parents, what do you do to keep your sanity and remember to laugh? Yes, there are still moments when we can laugh with our children. I have those when Michael navigates to a new place, shows me an award he earned at school or I hear him reading perfectly. Hold on to the positive. Take a deep breath through the negative. And know that you are growing as strong as you child is, riding out the storms with them. Until next time.

 

 

Many Ages In One- How To Raise An Exceptional Child And Truly Reach Them

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I am tired. So very tired. So is Michael. He has needed tighter boundaries from us for a very long time which we thought we were providing as parents. Apparently, we were not doing that and he was falling through space feeling helpless as much as we were. The wonderful professionals we are working with also reminded me of something Michael’s first speech language pathologist had told us. She had said that when Michael would start catching up on developmental milestones, he would move at warp speed. Consequently as his parents, we would need to learn to do that too. We would need to learn to adjust to the fact that at any given day we are raising a child who ranges at any given minute or hour from 2-10 years old respectively. A good friend of mine joked about this. She had said today my son is 3. Yesterday he was 8 (which was his chronological age at the time). The frightening aggression we have been seeing in Michael steadily going up in the last 2 years is only sometimes preteen hormones. The rest of the time it is, gasp, the terible two’s and three’s, as shocking as that is.

When we spoke to our new team recently, they reminded us that besides extremely tight boundaries, Michael would also need timeouts. Excuse me? Have you recently tried putting your 10 year old in a timeout in his room and having him stay there? Didn’t think so! The thing is, with a 2 year old you carry him there, put him/her in their crib, and leave. Child calms down. You go in an get them. It’s over. With a 10 year old there is no picking up. A few times we’ve managed after yelling and tears to get him to go on his own. Twice we’vve had to physically drag him which is not pleasant for any of us. Fortunately, after a bad afternoon over the weekend, Michael did eventually go and stay in his room, but an intended 10 min timeout became a 25 minute one due to screaming, swearing and banging things. Afterwards, when he was calm he realized had he gone immediately to his room to use his calm down strategies he would have been there much less time. Sigh. That’s when we realized like a small child, there would need to be LOTS of practice of this calm/down strategy for him not to see his room as punishment.

It is becoming a little easier for us as parents now that we are seeing Michael’s behavior and testing for what it is, a mixture of fear, boundary testing and growth across the ages that is normal for him to exhibit. We, as his parents, are also reclaiming our authority slowly and our confidence as parents through working with an amazing coach and remembering as hard as it is, NOT TO TAKE OUR CHILD PERSONALLY. This is the tricky one. However, I see now that he does not understand some of the things that he says to us. Many of these things are said in anger without thinking. That is another thing we are slolwy teaching him, think before you speak. It is not just to earn a reward or get praise, but also because words  hurt people and actions can damage more than just property. I see Michael’s anxiety level going down too, as his father an I give him clear, concise boundaries and rules. He knows where he is and is going even if it is sometimes boring. Before, he was rebelling for the sake of  rebelling. At first I jokingly nicknamed him James Dean, that famous actor from “A Rebel Without A Cause.” Then it was not so funny when every little daily event became a battle. I’m glad that slowly we are getting back on an even keel as parents and child.

Exceptional Parents, how old is your Exceptional Child developmentally and chronologically? Remember, there is their real age at any given time and their number age so as a parent you are juggling many than one child at a time, and if you have two or more Exceptional Children, it can be real challenge. Take a deep breath, find your center, get a new team if you need one to help guide you and your family, and never up on yourself or your child. Let out anger, frustration, and have a small pity party if you need to. But then, get back in the driver’s seat. You can do this. Things will get better. Until next time.

Remembering to Love Your Child Through Anger and Hurt

back view, child, countrysideThis weekend with Michael- some very good and sweet moments and then some awful ones with fighting, anger, tears and then exhaustion for all of us. When this happens, I would feel so drained, emotionally and physically, that I would sometimes momentarily forget that I love this person who is making me so unhappy and is frustrating me by fighting when he does not need to. You see, if we have someone in our life that makes us unhappy, in other cases we can get them out of our life. It is not always easy, as in the case of a partner, parent or co-worker for example, but it is doable .But not for a mother. Once you are a mother, you are a mother for life and beyond, and it hurts when you have to hear terrible words being said at you. The worst thingis that the child does not mean them or understand all that they are saying to you. You know this as a an Exceptional Mom, but they pierce you just the same. And it affects how you feel about your child. There is the constant battle inside for self-protection against this hurt towards pushing yourself to rise above your own anger as this is your child and you love them deep down inside even when you don’t like them.

This has been my road with Michael. Two steps forward, two steps back, and constant charts, emails, verbal reminders to him and myself, to regulate anger, stress and start again the next day. It is a roller coaster and one where as a parent you start to second guess yourself. But then you have a magical day with your child or a magical few hours, and you see you are on the right track. Yesterday I saw my little boy vibrant, laughing enjoying himself at the local splash pad/park near our home and I finally let out the breath I had been holding since our huge fight in the morning and I reminded myself, we are moving forward. Things will get better. Michael commented, “Mommy, you are not talking in your angry voice. That makes me happy.” I added that I was happy he was listening and handling his emotions. Michael also told me, ”I will use my strategies when I don’t like what I hear.” And he has been getting better. Onwards and upwards.

Exceptional Parents, do you have your moments when you feel your love for your child is not enough to get you both through a tough period? Do you feel like giving up sometimes? This is so hard to admit as Moms, but completely normal. Don’t feel bad. Feel your pain and anger. Let it out when you are alone and it is a safe time to do it. And learn from it. Your child needs time to learn new skills, develop new ways of coping. Let that breath out and start believing that it will get better. You and your child will make it work. Until next time.

Writing It All Down, Schedules And How They Can Help Exceptional Families

 

So I am coming full circle with something I thought we may have been done with-schedules and writing things down for Michael. I have always been someone who lives by my schedule. And as a writer, I love to write things down to organize myself creatively and otherwise. Also, in healing from depression I found the art of writing down my day and the stressful parts of my day to be extremely helpful in conquering my fears and anxieties. Michael was the king of pictos and way before he could talk as well as now we had a daily and nightly schedule with pictos and words for him. When his anxiety went up as he got older, we began drawing using stick figures to illustrate his day. One day in particular that he was stressed, I remember drawing and writing it out for him. Then earlier this year he somehow got it into his head that he was a baby if he adhered to a written schedule. It was no matter that I showed him my schedule on my phone or Dad his, until the professionals we have started working with showed this to Michael, he did not believe he needed it. And guess what? Last night when one of our team was at the house and mentioned that we try a return to schedules for his entire routine with times attached, a little light went off in my head and I had what you could say was an “AHA” moment. What was the moment, you ask? Well, I thought to myself that when our days were super structured with schedules and immense detail, we did not have the behaviors and aggression we are seeing now. Of course, Michael is older, catching up on milestones and hormonal, but still, this could be the answer we were looking for. Boundaries. He needs more boundaries.

All children need boundaries with their parents. They need to know that no means no. They need to learn to handle stress and disappointment. And they need to know to handle regulating themselves. I realized that I had given Michael much less choice when he was younger and less verbal. He also had taken me more at my word and tested less as, well, he was younger. Now it’s the case of Dad and I maintaining strong ties and strict rules to teach him boundaries, respect for us as he has for all adults around him, and not being afraid to handle the fallout. It’s what we say and that’s that, no matter how hard he screams and rails and what we need to do to be consistent. Things have started getting easier and when there are problems they are bad, but the other days the respect and understanding is growing. Exceptional Parenting is hard, but patience is something I am honing and I remember to think of Michael like the kids and families I work with. I need to stay calm, firm, talk less, and follow through.

Exceptional Parents, does writing down a schedule work for your Exceptional Child and your Exceptional Family? Do you or your child find it more stressful? Remember, you need to do what works for you and your child, think of how the techniques you use can help your family, and be willing to experiment a little. Don’t despair. There is always trial and error. You will eventually find what works and then you and your children will head over to the next stage in your relationship. Until next time.

Finding Your Confidence, Finding Your Exceptional Tribe- How To Help Your Family Overcome Challenges

 

 

So yesterday felt like the first day of the rest of my life, as the saying goes, or at least, the rest of my exceptional parenting life. Things have been rough with Michael for awhile, though of course we’ve had our good moments. It occurred to me that some of the wonderful professionals we’ve recently started working with on “Team Michael” are right. We had lost Michael’s respect somewhere along the way. He was testing us and we responded with fear due to the escalating aggression, a perfecttly normal reaction, but one which as parents we needed to steel ourselves against. You see, all those years ago an early speech  therapist had warned us that when Michael caught up with his milestones it would be incredible, but that we might experience such a speedy catch up, that we would be dealing with two and three year old behaviors in a much older child. Bingo! That has been what has been occurring along with, GASP, regular puberty. God help me. But at least now, Dad and I know what we are dealing with.

We are also seeing Michael seeing as we put up healthy boundaries with us (no chances for hitting, swearing, breaking things), and giving him praise when he does regulate with words NOT things, we are seeing a big improvement. We are also seeing him try and abuse our good will, such as buying more “down time”, more food, making excuses for why he did not listen (stress at teacher giving homework etc.) but we are standing firm. And this is good. It is good for Michael. It is good for us. Last night after a particularly good day and night, I praised Michael’s listening and usage of strategies when he did not like something I had said earlier in the evening. When I told him how happy I was to be able to have cuddle time with him at bedtime due to listening and no aggression, Michael responded with:

“I am happy too Mommy. I miss you. I’m sorry for not listening. I will find a new tool that will remind me to use my new strategies.”

I could not have been prouder. You see, he knows like all of us, what to do AFTER the anger has set in. Beforehand, a pre-strategy is what our challenge is. We tried counting (no go) We tried a mantra (no go). We are hoping that with new input from new members of “Team Michael” as well as Michael’s personal brainstorming, we will learn more of what Michael needs to help keep him motivate to listen. He is very much an action/consequence kid. We want to make it worth his while, so we can continue to teach empathy, love and respect. Like all kids, he has so much to offer. We want to go back to having him offer it to the world.

Exceptional Parents, how are your re-finding your confidence as an “Exceptional Parent”? What techniques/strategies have helped you personally overcome challenges in yourself and with your child?  Remember, if the team you have in place is struggling, do not hesitate to seek new team members. Trust your instincts on this. Go with your child’s interest as well. Art and Musical Therapists are able to reach a lot of children, as are Psycho Educators and Psychologists. But also consider consulting a Parent Coach or Educator that can work with you and your partner. The support you will get as the adults in charge will be invaluable to you and your child’s happiness and success. Until next time

 

 

I am a writer, speaker and parent coach whose son with autism has shown me a whole new way to see the world and embrace the joy of the moment! I believe in empowering parents to trust their own instincts when it comes to their children, and in helping them parent with love, respect and confidence towards their child.

For more information on my coaching services, see my website: www.creatingexceptionalparentingg.com, and for a free 30 minute exploration/consultation session contact me at joanne@creatingexceptionalparenting.com. Also to receive a copy of my FREE E-BOOK “5 WAYS TO HANDLE EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY ANXIETY” click on www.creatingexceptionalparenting.com/EBOOKS.

Spa Days And Recharging Burnt Exceptional Mom Batteries-Mine And My Child’s Break From One Another

 

 

This weekend was my annual Spa Weekend away with a close friend. I have been making this trip for the past four years in order to recharge my Mom batteries, which are always pretty burnt by the time of year. This particular year with Michael’s challenges it was even more welcome, though I saw it was only the beginning of what I needed to do to get myself back into shape mentally, physically and spiritually. I am seeing how all the things I tell Michael he needs to do to stay calm, balanced and able to handle what life throws his way, is also important for me as his Mom to practice. I have been sadly neglecting this area for myself because, well, life happens. And when it happens what do women and specifically Moms do? We prioritize everyone but ourselves and our needs. This eventually leads to exhaustion, frustration and burnout.

The good news is that as a seasoned Exceptional Mom, I am beginning to understand when I have overdone it and have not taken care of me. I have hit that point. And yes, the house is looking better. I am doing well at my job and prioritizing my family. But where do I fit in? Last week when I just needed to crash from all the drama that has been unfolding in our family, it was my reminder that I needed to give myself permission way before my annual girls spa trip to retreat from my family, from responsibility for a few hours each week to take time to just be. Meditation and yoga have taught me to slow down in my mind and in my actual life, but practicing this art is obviously harder than saying it. So what I am reminding myself to do is be honest with myself. Over the weekend, Michael and I had some talks about self-care, about using strategies to both stay calm and remain calm, and how if anyone feels themselves falling off track, what options do they have? Michael seemed to think he was weak if he needed strategies or lists to keep organized. I don’t know where he got that from. I spoke to him about how important lists and strategies are for everyone, adults and children alike. I showed him how I organize myself. It was a good reminder about how important balance is for all of us. Parents need to remember to practice what they preach to their kids.

 

Exceptional Parents, how do you recharge your batteries and keep on track with your life schedule? How do you know you’ve fallen off track? Remember, tomorrow is always a chance to get it right. Show your child there is no shame in learning from your mistakes, starting over and getting stronger in the process. Until next time.

Mantras and Regrouping-How To Turn Challenges Into Strengths In Exceptional Families

 

Rear View of Woman With Arms Raised at Beach during Sunset

I finally let out a very deep breath a few days ago. It started with heaving sobs and crying. Then all the anger, all the grief , and all the stress of Michael’s escalating aggression in the last six months hit me full force. Yes, it’s been building. Yes, it’s been rough. Yes, I needed to let all that out. I felt lighter, calmer, more sure of myself as his parent,  and able to start changing our home strategies to give Michael more of the calm, consistent environment he was not getting for whatever reason. Maybe Dad and I were too busy to see it. Then a beautiful thing happened. After a particularly hard end to our week on Friday, this weekend was wonderful. Michael seemed to be starting to connect the dots of what the new team is telling us to do, and we had our first good weekend in a LONG TIME. Michael earned some chore money helping do housework, yard work with me, and helped me clean my car yesterday. Michael also had great bonding time with me and his Dad at parks and at home.

He was loving, calm, and when he tested we reminded him of the tools he had at his disposal: his calm corner to regulate, his anger box to write out his feelings and talk to us when calmer and a transition place where he can stop himself before his anger escalates. All these great tools are no help when his anger would go from 0 to 100 in second,s and we were all left in tatters after. A great parent coach we consulted  (yes, I know the irony of this), suggested something to get Michael to stop and think before he let his anger take control. She suggested counting backwards which he didn’t like. I agreed that he needed  this transition time though, so using her great idea I suggested a one to three word mantra which he would come up with to help him. The point is I was talking too much and the more we simplify, the easier it will be for Michael to understand what is expected of him. His mantra is his favorite shopping center.  Not a shock for anyone who knows Michael! Now he uses that to calm down before getting upset, and it is working so far, fingers crossed. What this is showing me too, is how important it is to be open to new trying new things with our Exceptional kids when they are struggling and we are struggling.  It has been humbling for me to seek help too. I always know what to say to heal others, but in my own family, it has its limits. I can see the wheels in motion and am happy that the people we are adding to team Michael are helping us as others have before to open up to new ways of thinking, growing, and being as individuals, as parents and as child in Michael’s case.

Exceptional Parents, when were you last stuck with your Exceptional kids in a pattern of challenging behaviors or other circumstances? Did you remember to think outside the box? Don’t be afraid to rebuild the team you have for your child if what you are doing is not working, as well as try new things as a family. You are not a failure as a parent, and never say that about yourself. You are growing and learning and that is OK. But the most important thing to do is remind your child that they are loved for who they are, and remember to love yourself too. Take time to be alone, to spend with family and friends and regroup. Harness your energy for the parenting journey ahead. Your body and mind will be ready for the next challenge as an Exceptional  Parent. Until next time.